It’s always good to be here, and renewing, even at a time like this when my heart is pulled strongly toward the US. With my dad in the hospital and my baby boy getting ready to make his grand appearance, there’s a lot to feel and think about these days. Hugs and songs from Guatemalan children, though, go a long way toward reminding me why I’m here.
Thanks, by the way, for the good wishes regarding Dad. He’s scheduled for bypass surgery on Tuesday, so this is a time of waiting, mostly.
The main purpose of this trip to Guatemala is to introduce my friend John Smith to the work we’re doing here. John’s one of the few people I know who actually does more shows in a given year than I do, and I think he’ll do a great job spreading the word about PEG while I head off on my fellowship.
John and some children in Chacaya
John spends a lot of time in Ireland but hasn’t really need anywhere like Guatemala before. We’ve spent the first couple of days checking in on two projects where PEG has made some contributions, and buying some school supplies for a third project where PEG has been integral.
We touched down a half-hour late in Guatemala and were greeted by a Mayan man named Nicolas in a Chinese-built mini-mini-van with a spider web crack in the windshield. Nicolas navigated the darkness, the potholes, the perros and late night middle-of-the-street soccer games for four hours, talking US politics for most of the way (he’s excited about the idea of a US president who knows something first-hand about poverty and how most of the world lives, and seems to really care about it).
A little after 11 (1AM on the east coast) Nicolas and his micro-van delivered us to the Posada de Santiago at Lago Atítlan, where we’ll base for the next four nights. The folks at the Posada had left some food to be heated up when we arrived, so we ate ravenously and gratefully fell into our beds, listening to the rain and an occasional avocado landing on the roof.
We headed down to the dock on Friday morning and caught a boat across the inlet to Chacaya, where PEG recently helped build a new school. Our original intent last summer was to build the building, but as it turned out a larger organization with deeper pockets showed up and built a gorgeous facility while we were still chewing on plans and gathering funds.
The folks from Chacaya got in touch with some concern to let us know they had this opportunity, and I was happy to reassure them that we weren’t the least bit worried about turf and were thrilled that the kids were going to have a good school building.
The land they had bought with assistance from Sharing the Dream is very steep, though, and as it turned out they needed to build a strong retaining wall to make sure their beautiful new school didn’t wash down into the lake. We agreed to take on the retaining wall, and after gathering a few bids and talking through the details, it was built this summer with money from PEG.
More specifically, that money was raised for PEG by Jason Haney and Eric Keen, who cycled all the way across Canada last summer as a fundraiser. They covered 4000 miles in 37 days and raised $12,000 in the process. The retaining wall required about two-thirds of that, so along with celebrating the new wall and the new building, John and I met with two men from the parents’ committee that runs the school to talk about what their current needs are and how best to spend the rest of the money that the cyclists raised.
The parents’ committee is going to talk it over and gather some information, then be in touch with us to present ideas. It looks like one likely scenario is to buy some desks, of which they are certainly in need (kids are sitting on the floor in some classes because there aren’t enough seats). Another possibility is to work on erosion problems on the side of the school where the road comes up (using the term ‘road’ rather loosely).
I shot this picture of a girl in the village. It centers me to think that with an education she may be able to expand her options beyond this kind of work.
This was John’s first glimpse of a project we’re working on, and he found it deeply moving and encouraging. The parents’ committee has worked with three different organizations to make this school a reality, and it is powerful to see the result.
That was day one, and a solid start. More adventures tomorrow.